Monday, July 24, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 5)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

AP: 1 Corinthians 15:54 is clear that in the kingdom of God and his Messiah, death will no longer exist: " . . . 'Death is swallowed up in victory' [by God's agent]." This refers to a kingdom that belongs to another world, very different from the one on earth.

Although not exactly clear for modern-day readers, 1 Cor. 15:23–24 explicitly affirm that before the future kingdom of God (the Father), there is a previous kingdom of the Messiah. It is understood that between his "second coming" (v. 23 = parousia) and the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father (v. 24), the Messiah has to reign for a certain period of time. This reign will be somewhere (in this transformed world? in the air, according to 1 Thess. 2:10–12?). And it has to take place long enough to "abolish all rule and all authority and power." Whatever Paul's opinion as to whether the Messiah Jesus was a pre-existing "son of God" before being sent by the Father into this world, it is clear that he holds the position that, once resurrected, Jesus occupies a special place in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, and can be considered totally divine yet subordinated to the one and only God, the supreme monarch.

The expression "rule, authority, and power" (1 Cor. 15:24) refers almost certainly to angelic beings, in this case demonic ones, evil beings, who have controlled the universe until the moment of Jesus' parousia. Maybe Paul is thinking of the agents of the "prince of this world," i.e., Satan (1 Cor. 2:6, by analogy, and Rom. 16:20: And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet very soon"). We do not know if Paul alludes to a final cosmic battle like we find in Revelation; probably not. Death is not personified in the Pauline text as one of those evil spiritual powers, so you can speak of his defeat. Then, in a mysterious way, the whole universe, the whole of creation, will be transformed into a "new creation" (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17), one not subject to sin. Romans 8:19–22 explicitly states this, although there is nothing in Paul's writings to explain this process:
"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." 
It is clear that Paul lays the foundations here so that his disciples, the authors of Colossians and Ephesians (especially the latter), speak of Christ even more sharply than their master Paul as of a power of cosmic transcendence. The author of Psalm 8:7, which is quoted in 1 Cor. 15:26 ("because he put all things under his feet"), refers to the human being in general, whom God establishes as "king of all creation." Paul takes the freedom, which was normal among the thinkers of his time, to ascribe the meaning of this text to a Messianic meaning and apply it to the Messiah Jesus. But the kingdom of the Messiah will only last a little while (?) and will then be replaced by the full kingdom of God or kingdom of the Father.

15:27b–28 (especially "then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who has subjected all things to him") are clear in a "subordinationist" and "monarchist" sense. The divinity of the resurrected Messiah is of the second degree, "subordinate" in everything to a single God, the "king" or "Father." The apostle thus saves his "strict" Jewish monotheism, although in reality he is establishing again the basis for a clear binitarianism, and later for a true "diteism." Paul was a monotheist. There is no question about that. But he was so in the sense of his own day, which admitted obscure and somewhat confused notions about the divinity that we now distinguish clearly. There is no doubt that, according to the christological interpretations of the councils of Nicaea (AD 325) and Chalcedon (AD 451), Paul would have been condemned as a heretic. And it happened after his texts were rethought, reinterpreted, and rewritten by giving them a clearer sense, just as he reinterpreted and rewrote the Bible of his day.

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